Health insurance policy comes under fire

Campaigners say neither patients nor the health system have benefited from the current set-up Keystone

Campaigners calling for a single state-run health scheme want to end what they say is the "pseudo competition" of Switzerland's compulsory health insurance system.

This content was published on January 9, 2007 - 15:54

Two months ahead of a nationwide ballot on the issue, a committee repeated its calls for a "yes" vote, arguing their solution to rising costs would be leaner, cheaper and more transparent.

Andreas Rieger, co-president of the country's largest union Unia, said on Tuesday that if the government were now to describe such a proposal as an "undemocratic monster", it would only show voters how cosy the authorities were with private insurers.

The committee warned the current system had created an administrative overhead that has contributed to spiralling healthcare costs in Switzerland. Families in particular face hefty monthly bills for their premiums, which vary from canton to canton.

In December the government came out against the idea of introducing a single health insurance company, claiming that it wouldn't solve the problem of rising premiums.

The government line supports the position of a cross-party committee of parliamentarians who also argue that the initiative creates more problems than it can resolve.

They said a single health insurance would create a two-tier system, where only well-off people could afford to pay for extra health coverage.

"Middle class tax"

Interior Minister Pascal Couchepin, from the centre-right Radical Party, argued in December that the initiative would not resolve the problem of soaring costs for basic insurance.

The people's initiative wants to do away with the free choice of health insurers, and link premiums to income and personal wealth, bringing together more than 80 insurers under one roof over the next three years.

Such a scheme would eliminate any kind of competition or need for innovation, the interior minister claimed. People would no longer be able to change insurance schemes if they were unhappy and any potential cost-saving options within schemes would be wiped out.

He said creating a premium based on how much you earn is tantamount to introducing a new tax targeting mainly the middle classes.

No benefit

Campaigners on Tuesday rejected Couchepin's arguments.

Natalie Imboden, from the Swiss Trade Union Federation, said the private insurance system "was obviously a part of the problem and not the solution" and that neither patients nor the health system had benefited from the current set-up.

Christine Goll, president of the public service union, called for Couchepin's "dismantling policy" to be curbed.

"A top-quality health insurance concept for everyone must also be possible in the future," she said.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The initiative was launched by a family association from western Switzerland. It has the support of centre-left political parties, notably the Social Democrats.

The association collected just over 110,000 signatures to force a nationwide vote on a constitutional amendment. It is calling for a single state-run health insurance company funded by premiums which are based on health and personal wealth.

The government and parliament have come out against the proposal.

The vote is scheduled for March 11, 2007.

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